Nationals

Manning, Peterson, Pagano: 2012 a year to remember

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Manning, Peterson, Pagano: 2012 a year to remember

DENVER (AP) From Peyton Manning overcoming four neck surgeries to Adrian Peterson's rebound from a shredded knee to Chuck Pagano's fight with leukemia, this has been the Year of the Comeback in the NFL.

A season besmirched by tragedies, replacement officials and a bounty scandal also will go down as one in which some of the game's greats not only regained their old form but somehow surpassed it.

There are always feel-good stories about those who overcome long odds and broken bodies to regain at least a sliver of their past glory. This season provided an abundance of them.

When the season started, who could have expected Manning to recapture his MVP play so quickly with a new team? Or for Peterson to come back less than nine months after shredding his left knee. Or for Jamaal Charles to return better than ever after suffering a similar injury.

Then there's Pagano beating the biggest opponent of his life.

A year ago, Manning was in the midst of four neck operations to fix a nerve injury that had caused his right arm to atrophy and had sidelined him for an entire season. Soon, he would say a tearful farewell to Indianapolis, a city he'd put back on the NFL map, and hook up with John Elway in Denver.

Peterson's left knee was still swollen after he'd shredded it on Christmas Eve, an injury similar to the one Charles suffered earlier last season. Yet both would defy medicine and conventional wisdom alike to rebound as better runners than they were before getting hurt.

Pagano's fight started three months ago when it was disclosed he had cancer, forcing the first-year Colts coach to take time off for chemotherapy treatments. He returned to work this week, taking the reins from assistant Bruce Arians, who guided the team to a surprising playoff berth in his absence.

``When I asked for Bruce to take over, I asked for him to kick some you-know-what and to do great. Damn Bruce, you had to go and win nine games?'' Pagano said. ``Tough act to follow.''

If all goes well at practice this week, Pagano will be on the sideline for the regular-season finale against Houston. That's a final tuneup for the AFC wild-card playoffs that nobody saw coming for the Colts so soon after cutting ties with Manning, who switched teams, coaches, cities and colors and didn't miss a beat in 2012.

Despite a new supporting cast and a 36-year-old body he insists continues to confound him, the quintessential quarterback has had one of the best seasons in his storied career. Manning set franchise or NFL records just about every week while completing 68 percent of his passes for 4,355 yards with 34 TDs and just 11 interceptions.

And yet, he insists he's not anything close to what he used to be, that all he can do is maximize what's left in a body that's been slowed by so many surgeons' scalpels, and trips around the sun.

``I know you don't believe me when I say this; I'm still learning about myself physically and what I can do, it's still the truth,'' Manning said after guiding Denver to its 10th straight win. ``I still have things that are harder than they used to be, so (there's) things I have to work on from a rehab standpoint and a strength standpoint. That's just the way it is and maybe that's the way it's going to be from here on out, I don't know.''

Maybe Manning's being modest, maybe he's suckering opponents into blitzing him more often so he can burn them again. Either way, it's a remarkable rebound for a man whose right arm was so weakened after one of his neck surgeries that he could hardly throw the football 15 yards.

Long before Manning ever dreamed he'd be wearing the orange-mane mustang on his helmet instead of the blue and white horseshoe, Manning met up with college buddy Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies for a workout during last year's NFL lockout. They retreated to an indoor batting cage at Coors Field with a trainer in tow, and Manning's first pass nose-dived so badly that Helton told him to quit goofing around.

Manning wasn't messing with him. He was dead serious. His arm was shot, his future in football in doubt. A few days later, he underwent spinal fusion surgery and would miss the entire 2011 season.

If doctors had told him that was it, Manning said he would have called it a career without regret. But they gave him a bit of hope and that's all he needed to embark on his comeback in Colorado.

Coach John Fox, never one to lobby for awards, suggested this week that Manning deserves a fifth MVP honor for the numbers he's put up, the obstacles he's overcome, the shift of culture he's engineered.

Manning isn't interested in talking about MVPs or comeback awards. He just wants enough wins to get a shot at hoisting another Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans in six weeks.

Peterson, on the other hand, is unabashedly clear in his desire for some recognition after overcoming torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, requiring the kind of reconstructive surgery that usually turns dominant players into ordinary ones.

There's a long, long list of players who had shortened careers because of such injuries. But Peterson returned to the Vikings lineup less than nine months after his operation, and with a league-high 1,898 yards, he's 207 yards shy of Eric Dickerson's single-season record. He can topple it with another big game Sunday when Minnesota faces Green Bay with a playoff berth on the line for the Vikings.

With typical unflinching confidence, Peterson said in a recent interview with The Associated Press he's expecting to win the comeback award.

``I kind of have that in the bag, especially how I've been telling people I'm going to come back stronger and better than ever,'' he said.

Carrying the Vikings to the playoffs without a potent passing game in a league dominated by strong-armed, accurate quarterbacks would only burnish the credentials of this thoroughbred throwback.

In any other year, the zenith of comebacks might be that of Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, who battled back from three torn right ACLs - in 2009, 2010 and 2011 - to be a major contributor to the Panthers this year. No player in NFL history has returned after tearing the same ACL three separate times.

Charles missed nearly all of 2011 with a torn left ACL. Yet the former All-Pro running back has run for 1,456 yards, the seventh-best season in franchise history. He can break his single-season-high set in 2010 with 12 yards against the Broncos on Sunday.

Charles ran for 226 yards last weekend, when he surpassed 750 career carries, which also qualifies him for the NFL record for yards per carry. Charles is averaging 5.82 yards on 770 attempts, which far surpasses the 5.22 yards that Hall of Famer Jim Brown averaged in 2,359 attempts from 1957-65.

Charles, Peterson and Davis are all better than ever. Manning might be, too, but he'll never say it.

``I'm trying to be as good as I can at this stage,'' Manning said. ``A 36-year-old quarterback coming off a year and a-half off, playing on a new team, I'm trying to be as good as I possibly can in this scenario.

``It's a different kind of body I'm playing in and just a different kind of quarterback play for me.''

Yet, as transcendent as ever.

``If he's lost anything, I can't see it,'' said Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley, who played with Manning in his prime in Indianapolis. ``I'm sure in some ways he's better than he ever was. And he's always been great.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Michael Marot and Dave Skretta contributed.

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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Your guide to this year's Capitals Development Camp

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Your guide to this year's Capitals Development Camp

While this year’s Capitals roster brought home the ultimate prize – the Stanley Cup – it’s no secret that the team won’t be able to stay together as it is.

Despite the NHL salary cap rising from $75 million to about $79.5 million, the team will have less than $20 million to re-sign 19 active NHL and AHL affiliate players.

Challenging seems like an understatement when considering that key players like John Carlson, Jay Beagle, and Devante Smith-Pelly are due for some significant raises from their previous contracts. 

Similarly, the organization has to maintain depth, keeping its core roster strong while still offering smaller two-way contracts to their minor-league players in Hershey. 

With this in mind, this summer’s development camp seems especially crucial. For die-hard fans and new arrivals alike, all eyes are on how management will keep the team’s momentum next season.

Here’s what you need to know about attending Capitals Development Camp –shortened as dev camp – including who to watch and what events are most worthwhile.

What should I expect for Capitals development camp?

Development camp is fairly self-explanatory.

For one week every summer, as offseason contract negotiations take place, prospective players, minor-league players, and junior league players gather for a week for assessment, scrimmaging, fitness testing, practice, and publicity events. However, it's important to realize that the roster will not be finalized until the last minute, and depends on who the Capitals select or trade for in the 2018 NHL draft this Friday and Saturday.

Practices are free and open to the public at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, with coaching and managerial staff assessing players. Fan Fest will take place on Saturday, June 30 featuring the final camp scrimmage.

The Alumni Summer Classic game is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Kettler. The event is also free and open to the public.

Who should I be looking out for?

Former Hershey Bears on entry-level contracts like Jakub Vrana and Madison Bowey provided essential depth to the Capitals through this historic season. Several of their colleagues may be next in line.

Defensemen 
Following last years’ development camp, Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, and Jonas Siegenthaler joined the Hershey Bears, showing promise on the team’s blue line. 

Hobbs, 21, spent two seasons with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League before coming to the Bears this past season. In November 2017, Hobbs suffered a wrist fracture, missing 32 games of the Bears’ 76-game season. Despite the injury, Hobbs put up a total of 16 points in 44 games.

Assuming he stays healthy, he only stands to get better. Like Siegenthaler, we’ll likely see him in the preseason lineup.

Johansen, 20, also came to the Bears from the WHL – Kelowna, to be exact. The 2016 first-round pick put up a respectable 27 points over 74 games this season. Though this may seem like a significant drop from his previous season’s 41 points in the WHL, the decrease is fairly typical when transitioning from junior to professional hockey.

Siegenthaler, 21, has the most impressive resume of any Capitals defensive prospect. Siegenthaler struggled to produce with the Bears this season, but did finish the full season in Hershey after spending 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with Switzerland’s ZSC Lions and joining the Bears for their spring playoff push. He’s also made appearances on the international stage at the U20 World Junior tournament, adding his name to Switzerland’s national team roster this season.

It will be interesting to see if he could push for a spot with the NHL club.

Forwards
On the offensive side, Brian Pinho, 23, seems to be poised for a change. Coming off a four-year career with the Providence College Friars, Pinho captained the team to the NCAA quarterfinals this season.

It’s uncommon, yet not unsmart, to finish out a college degree before joining the NHL. Pinho will likely join the Bears next season.

Garrett Pilon, 20, was traded from the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers to the Everett Silvertips. The star child of Everett’s historic playoff run, he proved his indispensability as a scorer who works well under pressure, racking up a whopping 80 points in his final junior league season.

With contracts up in the air for several of the Capitals’ bottom-six forwards and favorable testimonies from management, Pilon might be the strongest chance to crack the lineup.

Goaltending
The Caps’ depth and future in goal looks a bit wonky, with general manager Brian MacLellan strongly hinting at shopping backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer to teams who may be able to use him as a starter. Braden Holtby isn’t going anywhere, but you need more than one goalie for an entire NHL season, plus playoffs.

What to do? We’ll have to see how this year’s draft shakes out on June 22 and 23. But for now, keep an eye on Ilya Samsonov. The 21-year-old posted a 0.926 save percentage across 26 games with the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk this season. Even if he moves up to Hershey next season, it’ll be interesting to watch his development.

What else should I know?

If this dev camp is your first time at Kettler, get excited!

Note that for all practices except scrimmages, forwards will be dressed in red or white practice jerseys and defensemen in blue.

Since most players are new and/or under watch by management and coaching, all players will have names and numbers on the backs of their jerseys to make them easier to identify.

Keep in mind that whoever the Caps chose – or trade for – with their six picks in Friday and Saturday’s draft will also affect the dev camp roster. It often isn’t finalized until the last minute. Dev camp provides the first and best chance to get up close and personal with the Caps' newly drafted players. The uncertainty of who you'll get to see can be a drawback, but regardless, attending can give a great glimpse into where the Caps may be headed next season.

Between the Alumni Game, practices, and final weekend scrimmages, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to get your offseason hockey fix or take a step back from the Capitals’ salary cap woes. The final schedule for the week is likely to be released Sunday.

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